Children deserve high quality education and the resources to succeed.
This week, the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) is celebrating its 40 year anniversary through a series of events to highlight the progress that has been made in the area of early childhood education advocacy and the work that still needs to be done.
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, introduced and moderated a panel event on Tuesday to discuss the importance of early childhood education and the continued advocacy efforts in that field. In his introduction, he indicated that advocates, parents, educators, and lawmakers need to work together to build a “truly high quality education system that will benefit each and every child in the United States.” Henderson highlighted the importance of moving forward to lift up young children and our educational system by noting that “34 states provide less funding per student now than they did before the recession of 2008.”
The panelists included Helen Blank, director of child care and early learning at the National Women’s Law Center, and Nicholas Alexander, federal policy director at Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. The two panelists and Henderson created an open discussion about the obstacles to early childhood education progress and possible ways to overcome them.
One such obstacle is funding. Blank indicated that President Obama has allocated $75 billion to education – which is great, but still not enough. Blank referenced the Raising Smart, Healthy Kids in Every State report when he said that “an increase in federal tobacco taxes would ensure that two million low- and moderate-income children have access to high-quality preschool and prevent 1.7 million kids from becoming smokers.”
The second obstacle highlighted by the panelists was the issue of getting the message to policymakers. If policymakers do not fully realize the importance of investing in early childhood education, then that creates a domino effect of lower levels of funding, lack of legislative or administrative support for educational reform, lack of public understanding, and a host of other issues. Alexander spoke about the work he does, emphasizing the importance of mobilization and a consistent “drumbeat” calling for action. It is important that policymakers hear the messages about investing in children now to reduce crime rates later from people engaged in law enforcement.
As Marian Wright Edelman, president and founder of CDF, said in her closing remarks, finding solutions and pushing forward is going to be “a hard lift up a very tall mountain.” She also noted that strategy and persistence are highly significant in efforts to achieve quality early childhood education. “We don’t need to be big dogs,” she said, “we just need to be strategic fleas.”